The Soul that Sins, and Picking and Choosing

I want to share a comment that I made on another forum.  It did not get any “likes” or acknowledgment, and, since (unfortunately) my idol is approval by human beings (or at least being visible to them), I am in a bad mood about that.  But I think that I made an important point in my comment.  My comment may or may not be immediately acknowledged here, on my blog, but at least it will be here for people to read, if they choose to do so.

First, some context.  A friend of mine has been posting comments that are critical of the Bible and Christianity.  Her latest statement went as follows:

“‘And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor: and the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel.  And the LORD said unto Moses, Take all the heads of the people and hang them up before the LORD against the sun, that the fierce anger of the LORD may be turned away from Israel.’  (Numbers 25:3-4)  Behold, the God of love.”

According to many translators, the word “heads” here refers to the leaders.  I think that’s a sensible translation.  I doubt that God wanted the head of every single Israelite to be impaled, for what sense would that make?  There would be no Israel!  Rather, God desires that the corpses of the leaders hang before the LORD against the sun, the implication being that the leaders represent the people.

In my comment, I said the following:

“What’s interesting about that passage is that Moses didn’t even follow God’s instructions. God wanted Moses to kill the leaders of the people and expose them to broad daylight, as if the leaders were responsible for what the people did. Instead, Moses ordered the judges to put to death those directly responsible for the idolatry. You may not think what Moses did was perfect…and I’d understand your perspective. But it was a step up—instead of punishing those who were leaders, regardless of whether they participated in the idolatry themselves (what God commanded), Moses punished those who were directly responsible. And, as far as I can see, God did not condemn Moses for that—which calls into question fundamentalist and conservative Christian blabber about how we can’t pick and choose, and how we must obey, obey, obey.”

My point was that Moses did not obey God’s instructions, but rather he went with his own moral judgment and punished individuals for their own sins, rather than obeying God and making the leaders into scapegoats for the people’s idolatry.  And God did not condemn Moses for doing this.

I can’t say that I came up with this insight, however.  I actually got this thought from one of the contributing essays to Jews, Christians, and the Theology of the Hebrew Scriptures, though I forget which essay it was.  (I do remember this being an excellent book, though.)

So that’s my point!  I think it’s important to acknowledge that the “Believe and obey God, even when it goes against your moral sense and your reason” is not the only voice in Scripture.  It’s a voice (consider God’s command in Genesis 22 for Abraham to sacrifice his son), but it’s not the only voice.  In Numbers 25, God commanded Moses to punish the leaders for the sins of the people, and Moses went a fairer route by punishing those who sinned.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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